CAC’s Ashton Graham authors her own success story

By Ashton Graham, Intern
CAC Media & Community Events

(The following story is a first-person account of Ashton Graham's experience as a CAC student. Beginning with Promise for the Future, Ashton took advantage of the many programs CAC offers to earn her two-year degree the same week she graduated from Casa Grande Union High School.)

PINAL COUNTY, Ariz. - My name is Ashton Graham and this is the true story of how I graduated from Central Arizona College with my associate of arts degree while simultaneously receiving my high school diploma.

When I was an eighth-grader at Cactus Middle School in the Casa Grande Elementary School District, representatives from Central Arizona College came to my science classroom with big news. They told us about a fairly new scholarship that would pay tuition at CAC for up to four consecutive semesters. The funds could become available to us once we graduated from a Pinal County high school as long as we maintained a 2.75 grade point average.

Graduating high school was not even comprehensible in my 14-year-old spectrum of thoughts, but my parents and I signed the Promise for the Future scholarship paperwork and unknowingly made my first major plan for continuing my education.

During my sophomore year at Casa Grande Union High School, I came home from cheer practice and my mom handed me the CAC newsletter she received in the mail. She pointed out a small blurb in the corner with a picture of an older boy whom I vaguely recognized from the halls of my high school.

After reading the column, I learned that he would be graduating from both high school and community college at the same time. I was impressed. This guy must be a genius, I had thought at the time.

My mom also was astonished by his feats and urged me to look into attending CAC classes. I called CAC and made an appointment with an advisor, and the fall of my junior year of high school I started taking CAC courses at no cost through the Early College program.

The requirements were simple: I completed the COMPASS testing, CAC covered the cost of my tuition, I paid for my books, I took the required Orientation to Student Development course (CPD101), and I had to keep a 2.5 grade point average.

What made this even more doable was the fact that I had signed up for half-day at the high school. Back then, not many juniors could do that, but after talking to my high school counselor, an agreement was made that my CAC credits could be transferred to the high school through the college's Dual Enrollment program.

Many of my senior friends were doing the same thing, and at noon every day we headed down McCartney Road to CAC where I took ENG 101 with friends.

My schedule was manageable, and being a die-hard jock, I was still able to make it back to the high school in time for practices.

During the ensuing semesters, I took a crack at online classes in addition to taking courses at the CAC campus because I felt confident enough in my studies to increase my credit hours, and I still needed a schedule that would fit in all of my extracurricular activities. Online classes are not for everyone, but it turned out I could have success in that environment.

During the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, I had become comfortable at CAC and actually knew what was going on - with the help of my CAC advisor.

Looking over my Master Academic Plan (MAP), I realized that I would need to bulk up on summer credits in order to graduate from Central Arizona College in May of 2009. I took advantage of First Step, a CAC program that pays up to seven credit hours over the summer, while my parents helped me out with the rest of the cost. That summer I took 18 credit hours.

It was extremely challenging and the most consumed I had ever been with school work; however, I knew that I wanted to graduate on time. I completed high school a semester early which allowed me to spend the spring semester of my senior year finishing up the remaining credit hours I needed at CAC. By that time I was taking all of my classes online.

I applied for graduation with a true feeling of valor. My mom was preparing to host my graduation party, and called me on my cell phone and asked if I wanted green and gold icing (CAC colors) or blue and gold icing (CGUHS colors) for my cake, I told her I wanted both. Within a week I walked in both the CAC graduation and with my high school classmates at Casa Grande Union High School.

I finally had a summer off from school work and I prepared to move up to my dorm in Phoenix and attend classes at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

There was yet another surprise I discovered before starting my first semester. During a meeting with my ASU advisor, all of the classes I needed to take for the coming semester were mapped out. I pointed out that I had already completed classes at CAC that met the requirements, but the advisor told me that not all of my credits from CAC would transfer unless I had a degree. She looked puzzled when a huge grin broke out across my face. Within a week the records of my diploma were transferred from CAC and my ASU general education courses were checked off my to-do list.

I learned through trial and error that graduating from high school and community college is plausible; it doesn't take a genius like I had once thought. Now my younger sister is on the same fast track, learning from my mistakes and being inspired by my dedication and success. It takes hard work, but it all pays off.

CAC is an excellent step toward a university. The transfer is effortless and the experiences I had prepared me for what was to come.

I also saved a ton of money by being able to complete my general education courses on scholarship at CAC. I went off to ASU with a full two years of completed education under my belt, and I have CAC to thank for that.

Central Arizona College - District Office 8470 N. Overfield Road, Coolidge, AZ 85128 Phone: 800-237-9814